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The short answer is: “Well, kind of.”
At first, that may sound like a pretty inadequate answer for an art that has studied the Human Condition for thousands of years. Humans are a pretty complex lot, and billions of dollars each year are invested in things like treating depression (and the perpetual struggle with weight loss, while we’re at it) without clear-cut results in many cases, so the better answer to your question may be another question: What is mental health?
You may have heard of various studies showing that the time of year a person was born in can influence the chance of that person suffering from various mental illnesses. For example, being born between the Signs of Capricorn and Pisces seem to carry an increased risk of schizophrenia. Aries, Taurus, and Gemini seem to show an increased likelihood of anorexia. This is the sort of thing that gets astrologers understandably excited, but can’t be taken on their own to demonstrate an astrological significance. For example: in my experience, Sun square Uranus is one aspect that could be considered a warning sign for mental illness, but that’s dependent on more than just the Sun’s placement. Uranus keeps moving, and if Sun square Uranus were a risk factor, we would expect more Geminis and Sagittarians born in the mid-sixties to be schizophrenic, and more Aries and Libras born in the mid-90s to be schizophrenic… and I’m not aware of any studies investigating this specific factor. (For the record, I’m a mid-60s Sagittarius myself, and I’m feeling fine, thank you).
A person’s mental state is the result of their entire birth chart, and the state of the Sun at birth can influence mental health… but so can other placements. I would expect Mercury to be strongly aspected (or paradoxically, totally unaspected) in someone with serious ADHD, Venus with narcissism and body image disorders, Mars with anger problems., and so on. A Jupiter aspect to the Ascendant can act as a general amplifier of behaviors, whatever they might be. Every planet contributes to your personality, so I suspect that no one planet can be “blamed” for mental illness.
Then of course there is the placement of the Moon in a birth chart. It is largely, I believe, the fact that Western Civilization is based in a Solar calendar that we overplay the significance of the Sun Sign. The Moon is at least as important to a person’s emotional comfort. If we were on a lunar calendar, we’d all be more aware of Moon Sign placements. That, and of course it’s no coincidence that “lunar” and “lunatic” come from the same root word in Latin.
There is a book out called Signs of Mental Illness: An Astrological and Psychiatric Breakthrough by Dr. Mitchell E. Gibson, a Harvard-trained MD, which claims to have somewhat cracked the code as far as spotting mental illness in a birth chart, but i confess I haven’t read his work.
So to a certain extent, yes, an astrologer who knows what he or she is doing can spot the potential for mental health issues. Despite all that: we might be better off asking ourselves what “mental health” (or the lack of it) actually IS, anyway. The so-called “Bible” of these things is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the latest version of which is DSM-5. Every time a new edition of the DSM comes out, some illnesses are added and some are dropped. It was only a few decades ago when being gay was considered to be a mental disorder. Depending on which Edition you go by, you can or can’t be diagnosed Major Depression within 2 months of the death of a loved one — and where did they get that arbitrary number from anyway? Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is now an Official Problem, whereas before it was just “really bad PMS,” and the standard treatment was to say something like “settle down there babe.”
In some ways, these changes reflect a refinement of our understanding of how the mind works… and sometimes it just feels like a change in fashion statement (culottes are OUT!).
As for whether or not the challenges presented by an individual’s birth chart will always be with that person: well… yes. You may have been born with a certain tendency to this or that, and you may always have to struggle with it. Fortunately, if there is any one single point to Astrology, it is this: if understanding how the cards work and what you’re holding in your hand can make you a better and more successful poker player, then understanding your own strengths and challenges as presented by the birth chart can do the same.
As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said in a decision about whether or not a certain film could legally be considered “obscene”: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…” Perhaps when it comes to what we consider “mentally healthy” or not, some of the same reasoning should apply.
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